God's Own Hamburger
A skinny, ADHD child, touches the face of his Maker!
I sit here looking for the words or a hook to catch your interest in this piece, and I don’t seem to be able to come up with anything clever, interesting, or witty. It is a strange feeling for someone who has chosen to make writing their career to not have the words to put on a page for an introduction to memories from my childhood which I cherish, so I guess I’ll just jump in.
When I was younger -from like 9 to 12- I went to a beautiful place named Green Hill Lake for a portion of my summers. I haven’t seen it in so long, but when I close my eyes and think about it I can kind of picture it…
As I close my eyes, I see a long highway that winds through a seemingly endless evergreen forest. Giant, dark green, Pine and Hemlock trees line the tiny two-lane highway. One after another, they slide by the back window of my parent's blue with brown paneled 1970 Ford Country Squire Wagon, where a 9-year-old me is sitting with the window down.
He was a skinny, wide-eyed, ADHD-fueled kid, with platinum blonde hair that had just been cut into a mushroom shape by his Father about an hour before they hit the road. AC/DC and Metallica bang away on the radio, and he sings along headbanging a little.
They turn down a dirt pathway off to the right. The old Wagon shakes and rattles, kicking dust and rocks up behind it. Leaving the light brown cloud of debris behind its 14-inch, white-painted tires.
38-year-old Dad turns up the music because the car is making so much noise, that it drowns the song out. He smiles at his young -often annoying- son then takes a final draw from his Player’s Light before tossing the spent butt out his window.
He looks back up into the wide rear-view mirror with a “Hey Buddy!” getting the kid's attention. Dad then blows smoke from his nose, like some sort of cartoon bull that was readying a charge. Something this skinny kid thought was entertaining at the time. The kid laughs his ass off… Dad chuckles.
They roll up a small hill past an old, segmented, oak sign, painted in sun-washed black lettering that reads “Green Hill Lake Camp” across three vertical boards that clatter against each other, held fast by rusted eye bolts. Dad speeds up, then hammers his breaks sliding on the loose gravel into a nearby parking spot, throwing up Ronnie James Dio’s Devil Horns.
“Alright kid, get your stuff,” Dad says, turning off the growling car engine. He pulls his seatbelt off and opens the old squeaky door, getting out for a stretch.
He pulls another cigarette from the crumpled-up package, tucked away in the inside pocket of his brown and cracked leather jacket. He pops it into his mouth, unfolding the “Player’s” Matchbook.
The old sailor with his rough-looking beard and blue hat winks at the kid as he struggles to pull the oversized hockey bag from the rear hatch. Dad breaks off a match and strikes the blue head against the rough brown strip. It erupts with life and sets alight.
Dad covers the flame with his palm, drawing it back into the end of his cigarette. The tobacco catches, and he takes a drag laughing a bit watching his skinny boy still trying to maneuver the bag from its resting place in the flatbed trunk.
After another drag, he holds the cigarette in between his lips, coming to his son's rescue. Dad pulls the bag up and over his shoulder.
“It’s not that heavy dude, see.” he slaps the kid on the back, knocking him aside a bit.
“Whatever, Dad. Do I have to stay here?” the boy replies, frustrated.
“Ah, try it out bud. If you don’t like it, we will come to get you.” Dad smiles, flicking the long, sagging, ashy end with his free hand. The spent tobacco dances away on the nice cool breeze sweeping up from the lake.
Together the son and the Father walk up to the crest of the small hill and look out over the sprawling campground.
The trees surround a blue lake, the shores lined with boats and equipment. The jetty sticks out quite far, allowing the older kids into the deeper waters and swim.
A row of log cabins forms a semi-circle a little way out from the lakeside, next to the forest's edge. Random buildings dot flattened surfaces where kids would run around and play, and do activities during the day.
In the middle of the campground sits a blue and white outdoor pool, bordered by a chainlink fence where campers go for swimming exercises. Further past that, a dirt trail led back into the firepit at the base of a small mountain.
This is the first time I had ever gone to Summer Camp, and it’s one of my most vivid memories as a child. I remember standing on that hillside looking down at everything.
There were kids of all ages who ran back and forth, dotting the plateaued ground and playing games with counselors or friends. I remember that Immediately to the right of the parking lot, there was a big brick building. We campers were never allowed in there, and to this day have no idea what it was for.
A little further down the small path was the great wooden chapel, its steeple seemed so high as it towered above everything else. A splintered cross was hammered into the face, just below the old, boarded-up, bell tower. Kids and adults would go in the massive iron double doors, and only adults came back out.
Now that I think about it, they all seemed to have a relieved look on their faces. That makes me chuckle, because, we as adults now know that it’s a blessing to have someone else look after the munchkins for a while, and what's better for a marriage than a week-long daycare centre in the summer to give you a much-needed break.
The chapel was what Green Hill Lake Camp had used as the Sign-In area at the start of the camping week, and a check-out spot at the end of the camp. Right next to the Chapel was a small cabin with a red cross on it, this was where the Nurse stayed for the season.
As you walked down onto the first area of flattened land, there was a long brick and concrete building, with a raised tile roof that sat on small wooden columns, this was the dining hall and canteen. I remember the campers would all be divided into houses, each named after prominent characters in the Bible here on the first day of camp.
In my first year, I was in Luke House, and we wore yellow t-shirts with the camp’s logo on them. The houses would take turns sitting in the dining hall for meals. We would pray before every meal, then we ate. I remember that they weren’t bad, mostly healthy things, vegetables, and fruits with some sort of protein. Not many of the younger campers were into that though.
When I thought about it, I found this funny. I completely understand now in my older age why they did this. So, the camp leaders, to avoid any trouble with kids not eating the healthy meals. They promised if we finished our food, we would get to eat the special treats they provided around the campfire before bedtime, if not, we wouldn’t get to eat whatever it was that they were going to provide that night.
Let me tell you, that some of those campfire snacks were the dream foods of nine-year-old kids. Burnt Marshmallows, Smores, hotdogs, chocolate bars, hamburgers. This piece is actually about my very first and very best ever campfire snack.
Needless to say, the promise (or threat) of not getting to eat campfire snacks did its job to keep us little gremlins in line. We always ate our meals, well, my house did anyway.
Just past the dining hall sat the Counselor's houses. They had two. One male and one female. They were huge log cabins, I never got to be a Counselor, so I didn’t know what they looked like inside there.
A few years later, my cousin got to though. I remember asking him what they do all summer as all the camper's cabins were devoid of distractions. We didn’t have any TVs or radios, no computers, and no cell phones (Not that computers or cell phones were super prevalent in ‘95).
He told me that they lived like Royalty in the Counsellor Cabins. They had their own bedrooms and a bathroom. Two counselors a room, sleeping on bunk beds. A big-screen TV lounge with cable, a small kitchen area, and they were allowed to walk the grounds after hours. Which was awesome.
Here we campers were in log cabins lined with bunk beds, much like a military barracks with a small room at the end for whoever was on duty that night. In bed by 9 o'clock, lights out at 10, up at 6 am for morning prayers at the chapel, 7 AM breakfast, then off we go to whatever daily activities (Building and launching rockets was my favorite.) our house was assigned to. Sundays we all had to attend mass.
Across from the counselor houses, were stone bathrooms for the campers. Beside those buildings sat the rocketry building. Then the outdoor pool was a little ways past that, smack dab in the centre of everything. Down a bit of a hill from the pool sat the jetty and Green Hill Lake. This was where we would go canoeing, fishing, sailing, and other water activities.
This tiny little Indoctrination paradise for children was surrounded by trees and forests. There were the hiking paths next to the lake, and the pathway to the firepit where we would always end our days in song, snacking, and prayer.
I remember everything seeming so big! and I was so nervous. I remember that I almost cried as I watched my Dad drive away up the path for the first time. I felt like he was never coming back, but, we all know these feelings, all of us were kids at one point.
After the first day, I didn’t feel that way anymore though. I swam in the lake for the first time. I went canoeing, My first meal at the camp was broccoli with cheese sauce, fries, and fish. I made friends, had loads of fun, and then the day was done. I remember I was disappointed when they brought us back to our cabins after dinner for downtime.
I thought that was it, and I was a bit disappointed. To my surprise, however, my counselor came in shortly after we all were herded into our cabins and rallied all of us to our bedsides.
He instructed that we were to get something warm and line up out front. So I did, unsure of what was happening. We thought we were in trouble or something. He led a long line of concerned children down a darkening dirt path into the black forest with a torch above our heads for light.
It felt like we were being led to some sort of dark ritual or something, and my little ADHD brain began to panic. We came into a clearing with a massive, stone-ringed bonfire pit. Sat neatly around it were long logs which we campers used for seats.
Leaning against one of the nearby log benches was a guitar, in the centre of the fire pit there was a stack of logs, and a few counselors pouring something onto them. Our counselor bade us sit, as the other counselors backed up from the woodpile. He stared at us a moment, then raised his hands into the air and said something along the lines of,
“...And God said, let there be light!” he tossed the torch onto the pile of wood, and it exploded in a blast of heat and smoke, illuminating the forest around us. The other counselors were laughing. Clearly, this was a regular thing that happened with the new campers. They liked to kind of mess with us, I guess.
There was a great intake of breath from us children, as our tiny faces glowed orange in the firelight. The torch guy sat down and plucked a few strings on his guitar, and we all began to sing kumbaya. It took us a bit to figure out what was happening, but we all laughed at our silliness and sang along.
Now for what this has all built up to. The thing you’ve all come here to read about… in the next few paragraphs!
The counselors set up little racks around this massive blazing beast of a fire and put some, (probably pre-cooked.) hamburgers around them to warm them up.
These burgers were huge, like quarter-pounders in the 90s huge! They began to sizzle and crackle as they heated up, the edges were singed and the barbeque sauce burnt a bit. Oh man, I can smell these babies now.
The counselors were cooking buns in some sort of cage contraption, so the smell of succulent meat and frying bread filled our senses. As we all watched with bated breath, singing thanks to God, they started to pass these honking burgers around to us. I remember that it could barely fit in my little skinny boy hands.
My eyes grew wide, as I slowly brought this sweet and smoky meat to my little mouth. I took a big juicy bite, the salt, the pepper, the smokey, sweet barbequed flavor danced through my senses as the buttered sesame seed bun crunched with every beautiful bite.
“KUMBAYA MY LORD!” I sang so loud into the blue-black sky through barbeque sauce-smeared lips, that I felt I was the only voice in those woods. This was a burger made by God’s Own Hands! And then, to my dismay, it was gone. I had eaten it all… my holy epipheny had vanished in a cruel twist of fate!
Never again have I been able to replicate this beautiful piece of meat. Nothing has ever been as good as God’s Own Burger at that Summer Camp in ‘95. We didn’t have burgers around the fire ever again in my following years at camp.
It seems like they were a special welcoming snack for first-timers. So that moment, that beautiful moment, where my tastebuds connected to the God we were being indoctrinated to give thanks to…
That was the best burger I’ve ever had, ever!